I was trying to think of a concrete way to demonstrate the difference between 'joy' and 'happiness' to my friends - a Sunday-school class of intellectually-disabled adults. I was going to use the scripture
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love;
just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be made full.
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
(John 15: 10-12).
We were going to talk about things that made us happy - and I was going to try to direct them to understand that happiness is from happenstance - in-the-moment and fleeting. Sparkly. But joy, joy comes from deep inside. Joy comes from the knowledge that God loves us, that Jesus died for us, that we are valued. It allows us to turn out and value others, to survive difficulties, to choose blessing over insult, and peace over distress. Joy is of the Kingdom. Happiness comes from the world.
But these words would only mean something if I could show these friends somehow. Friends like my daughter with Down Syndrome, like the young man with Fragile X, the woman with William's, the couple without anything at all except differently-abled intellect that puts them on the fringes of capability.
So I thought. And I found something in my daughter's craft box. Glitter. And glue. And the idea came to me... Show them glitter (happiness) on a paper without the glue. Demonstrate as we discuss what makes us happy. Lift the paper to admire and allow the glitter to fall off - like happiness - fleeting - nice in the moment, but temporary. Then apply the glue. Talk about the passage. What was Jesus's commandments? To love one another just as He loved them. How do they do this in their lives? Sprinkle on the glitter as we talk about the result of loving one another - how it looks and how it feels to respect others and be respected. Explain that the glue is the difference. The glue is Jesus. Joy doesn't happen without Him. Then hold it up again to see...
And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up,
he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face:
and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said,
"Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them,
even as Elias did?"
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said,
"Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."
And they went to another village.
Luke 9: 51-56
His mind was full and his heart felt like water in his chest, sloshing heavily as he trudged through the packed dirt and rocks on the road to Jerusalem. He alone knew what was to come. His robe was stained from travel, sweat and dust patterned like the brushwork of tides sweeping the floating things from the sea into great arcs along the shoreline of homespun wool. Sandals, dusty and threadbare, embraced his feet, protection from the heat of the road, from sole-cutting sharp edges, from heel-bruising stones.
His disciples were with him. As were followers, sometimes tens, sometimes hundreds, softening the silence with talk, and singing.
It was a penurious group. Always needing something. A word. A smile. A touch. Surrounding him. Brushing against him. Wanting him - doubters and believers. To notice. To affirm. To talk to them. To give them hope. To describe a better life, to promise a better time, to lead them. To love them. And he did love. He loved them all - beggars, widows, thieves, soldiers - all. Even the priests. Even the children. Especially the children.
But today his mind and heart were full of sadness - inexpressible, undeniable sadness. His face was set for Jerusalem. And what was to come. What had to come. He felt lonely in the knowledge.
Abba, he prayed silently, help me to bear this burden of knowing. Strengthen me to it. You are my fortress, my shield. You are.
Jerusalem. Not the mountain at Gerizim, near Sychar of the Samaritans, whose village he approached. Jerusalem. The city his ancestor David had claimed - city of the great Temple of Solomon, sacked, destroyed, and built again - city of towers and walls. City of priests. City of Romans. City of crosses. Where soon he would draw his last mortal breath.
But first, first he needed lodging. Tomorrow would come in its own time. In this moment, he needed to rest.
Eyes sifting the crowd, he chose two messengers. "Go," his chin pointed down the road. "Seek accommodation there." The Samaritan village was small, stone walls highlighted in the late afternoon sun, the rays filtered down from the sky in a golden halo. Yahweh was pointing the way. Again.
The man thirsted for the freshness of well water untainted by travel-worn wineskins and dust. He thirsted for renewal, like the country-scape surrounding him. What had been dry and lifeless now burst with new growth - saturating the land in a tapestry of bright green and threads of surprising color. Mood lifting, he raised his eyes to the light. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come. Yes, it was the season of singing. Thank you, Father. Thank you for reminding me. Thank you for joy. "Master."
The voice interrupted.
Jesus studied the returned messengers. He already knew what they would say. He read their disappointment. Between the lines, in the clenching of fists and the tightness of neck, he also saw their anger. It was a long road, this mission. And he wasn't done yet.
They spit the words out, "They will not accept us. They do not want anything to do with the Festival in Jerusalem - nor with those who travel there. They will not accept us."
Anger spread through the watchers. "Rain fire on them!" He recognized the voices, James and John, his Sons of Thunder. He held the twitch of his smile sternly under control - no, definitely not done teaching yet.
He understood weariness. He felt the rage, barely contained, swaddled in tired like a hungry babe. He felt the mood of the crowd overwhelmed like beating back flames with a ladle - too easily engulfed in heat, by fire licking at wounds of pride - turned away by Samaritans! At wounds of want - rest and refreshment. Fire feeding wounds of oppression. Wounds laid open on this road to Jerusalem.
Again, voices from the crowd - "You have the power - Do as Elijah did - consume them with fires from heaven!"
He understood. He felt. He knew. Eyes reflecting golden light, he stood, slowly straightening. Wistfully, he turned from the walls of the village, and once again fixed his gaze on the road to Jerusalem.
"No." The calm thunder of his voice washed over the flames of emotion. "We will not rain smoke and thunder from the sky to destroy" He answered the questions, the uncertainty, the righteousness and judgement in their faces. His voice, the voice they loved, became softer, echoing from a deep place inside. "I am not here to destroy, but to bring peace."
And they went to another village.
Such a short story in scripture. It is one paragraph, and only mentioned in Luke. I can't help but imagine what Jesus was feeling - what his followers were feeling - and how much farther they each had to journey. Both literally and figuratively. At this point, Jesus had been transfigured on the mountain. His disciples were pretty sure of who he was, and he had already attracted great crowds to his teaching. He had also predicted his death twice to those closest to him, but the reality of these predictions escaped them.
It amazes me - the patience that Jesus demonstrates. The love. Even when he knew what was to come. even when every fiber of his being was crying for the rest and respite the village could offer. Even when he and his followers were turned away. The Sons of Thunder, James and John, demanded punishment for the Samaritan village; Jesus reminded them, rebuked them - retribution was not the way to peace.
How many times have we been at a crossroad, have we seen what we thought was a perfect solution, a perfect ending, a perfect relationship, only to be unexpectedly turned away at the last minute - refused what seemed a sure thing - an earned reward - a deserved rest? How many times have we wanted to lash out in frustration or anger at this thing that we felt was taken away? Jesus knew what Jerusalem held for him. How many times have we allowed ourselves to lose focus, allowed ourselves to be led away from our purpose?
I am amazed at Jesus - fully human - tired and travel-worn, knowing the difficulty - the impossibility of what he would have to endure - just wanting a little respite from the road. I am amazed because I believe he understood and felt everything, all the emotions, all the turmoil, all the resentment surrounding him. I am amazed because I believe he chose this turning point - literally. He not only talks peace, but in the moment - in all the difficulty he was facing - he showed the way to peace.
They went to another village.
Sometimes, we just have to let go and find the other way. The way to peace.
Thank you for giving us the Way, your son,
who taught and showed, suffered, and died to redeem us to you.
I want, I yearn for peace - but I realize that there are so many things I have to let go of -
that we have to let go of in order to live and be in peace.
Help me, help us all, to choose the right road.
Even when the sun seems to shine a little brighter on a different choice -
So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
I Corinthians 14:15
"I am leader this year, are you amazed?"
This has been a sentence-in-the-making with my daughter, the unstoppable, the charismatic, the give-her-an-inch-she-takes-a-mile daughter with the extra chromosome in the 21st pair. I think stubbornness is imprinted on that extra chromosome. And indefatigable will. And unflagging optimism. And empathy. And stubbornness - did I mention stubbornness?
She started off with just telling me about her leadership. Every day. About fifty gazillion times a day. I helped her add the time frames - just trying to extend her communication. First it was today.. but that wasn't necessarily true because she has designated herself leader for our high school youth group, and they only meet once a week. So, today became this week.. but that sounds like one of those jobs you're assigned in the classroom at school. You know the kind - this week you're line leader, next week, paper passer, etc. So, week became year... which will probably work for awhile (a year, at least...drumroll, please). The changes are molasses-slow, over many often-amusing and always-revealing conversations and question/answer sessions.
The second part of her new sentence, however, is all her. I have no idea where she got it and how she hooked it together with being a leader. Did I mention how important being a leader is to my girl? Yes, I'm amazed. I'm amazed because while I was studying the leadership of Nehemiah, I saw the same qualities in my daughter.
She leads by example. She walked around after the kids in youth group had eaten pizza, picking up their plates and throwing them away. As she took mine, she gave me one of those of-course-I-would-do-this looks, and said, "It's leader." Yes, leadership is another thing we've talked about. What it means to be a leader. I was concerned that she just wanted the attention of sitting in the front. I was concerned she was all about the reward with none of the responsibility. So we talked about it. We talked about the responsibility, the doing... Seeing something that needs to be done and doing it. Over time - little conversations every day, weeks turning to months. And I think she's getting it.
We were shopping the other day. I had stopped at the shoe racks, where the boxes of shoes were stacked beneath the displays. As I tried on shoes, my girl kept herself busy taking the mismatched boxes back to their proper shelves. It was something that needed to be done... And she wasn't doing this just for show. She and I were the only ones in the aisles. I teased her about it. "It's leader, Mom", she told me. Hmmm... maybe I shouldn't tease.
She's been doing little helpful things around the house - like bringing the dishes from the table to the sink. She stands by her chair before breakfast and dinner and shakes my husband and my hands welcoming us to the meal. Little things above and beyond her regular jobs - little things that she thinks need to be done (gotta love the greeting at the table...) And when I ask what's made her so helpful, she says, "I am a leader, Mom."
She prays. If she hears a bad news report, she prays. If she hears a good news report, she prays. The youth share their God-is-Awesome moments from the week and celebrate with alligator claps. They also share prayer requests and we pray together. Sierra has taken alligator-awesome-God claps to a whole new level. "My dog, Mongo, he threw up, he is sick," I have to admit, my heart sank when I heard these words. I was thinking she wasn't understanding the praise part of the sharing. But she wasn't done speaking yet. "Awesome God, we pray for Mongo." Oh my goodness, she spun the situation! She took a prayer request and turned it into an Awesome God - because in her mind, it IS a praise to pray.
And here's the cool thing - watch, here's our God at work, even in the language... Praising... Praise into prayer... Praysing. Pray-Sing.
Did I tell you that I learn so very much from my daughter?
Our family is navigating a difficult stretch of water - it has to do with mis-placed blame and impossible requests and expectations. About my daughter. And how I work to guide and direct her as she negotiates the social world around her. Around us.
I am ever amazed by our God. I started writing this post weeks ago. Before events. Before hard decisions. And today, when I read it, when I added recent examples, when I looked to finish it; I was guided to the lesson. Pray Sing. That's what praise is - a singing prayer of thanksgiving. And that's what this situation needs - what every situation needs - some PraySing. There is joy in that.
Did I tell you that God teaches me so very much through my daughter?